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Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Oil and line the base and sides of two 20cm cake tins with baking parchment – if your cake tins are quite shallow, line the sides to a depth of at least 5cm.
Put half each of the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix well. If there are any lumps in the sugar, squeeze these through your fingers to break them up.
Mix half each of the buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, food colouring and 100ml water in a jug. Add 2 eggs and whisk until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk until well combined. The cake mixture should be bright red, it will get a little darker as it cooks. If it’s not as vivid as you’d like, add a touch more colouring. Pour the cake mixture evenly into the two tins, and bake for 25-30 mins, or until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tins for 10 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack, peel off the baking parchment and leave to cool.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 with the remaining ingredients, so you have four sponge cakes in total. Can be made up to three days ahead and will stay moist if wrapped in cling film, or you can wrap well and freeze for up to two months.
To make the icing, put the butter in a large bowl and sieve in half the icing sugar. Roughly mash together with a spatula, then whizz with a hand mixer until smooth. Add the soft cheese and vanilla, sieve in the remaining icing sugar, mash together again, then blend once more with the hand mixer.
To assemble the cake, stick one of the sponges to a cake stand or board with a little of the soft cheese icing. Use roughly half the icing to stack the remaining cakes on top, spreading a generous amount between each layer. Pile the remaining icing on top of the assembled cake, and use a palette knife to ease it over the edges, covering the entire surface of the cake. Tidy the plate with a piece of kitchen paper. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 2 days, but bring back to room temperature for an hour or so before eating.
This recipe was refreshed in July 2018 based on user feedback. For the original recipe, see our beetroot cake.